The good doctors and specialists at the American Association of Feline Practitioners make it clear that it is not only what we feed our cats that makes them healthy, but also how we feed them.
The AAFP is an organization of veterinarians dedicated to improving the health and welfare of cats through high standards of practice, continuing education and evidence-based medicine.
In October, AAFP put out a consensus statement on how to feed cats. The statement is called, “Feline Feeding Programs: Addressing Behavioral Needs to Improve Feline Health and Wellbeing.” Those interested can find the complete statement as well as brochures intended for non-veterinarians all for free download at this shortened web link: bit.ly/33rETv2 .
Recall that cats are one of nature’s only true obligate carnivores. They need diets balanced as if they were eating whole animals. Coupled to that is their need to hunt and capture prey.
Cats also prefer to eat alone and they do better if they can eat several small meals a day. Think about a cougar that takes down a small white-tailed deer. They don’t gorge feed like a pack of jackals or wolves would. The big cat eats a little, drags the rest to a place where only they know where it is hidden, and then return as they please.
In multi-cat homes, this optimization may translate to separate feeding stations, puzzle feeders or the new automatic feeders.
Regarding obesity, a common problem, suggestions are that the feeding of large meals twice a day, as most cats are currently fed, contributes to that condition.
Again, thinking like the housecat, one does not have to hunt, so they will conserve energy. They know when and where the meal will be so they wait for it and they get fat. In fact, AAFP points out that cats, like some humans, will learn to eat when they are bored, not when they are hungry. That’s one of the places behavior plays a role.
Similarly, a cat that is stressed may not eat properly either. Some, in a dog/cat household like mine, will be very vocal, rush the food, eat too much and soon and vomit it up again. My Boston terrier will playfully harass the cat if we let her. It’s not playful for the cat, but it’s stressful.
AAFP recommends many good solutions, but one is especially helpful: Watch for signs of anxiety or tension during feeding time. Cats need to feel safe when eating.
When cats are anxious or tense, you may see vigilant behavior including constant looking around, approaching the food with caution, ear flattening or positioned sideways in ‘airplane’ position, or a hunched or crouched posture.
AAFP also suggest two things to get from your veterinarian. The first is an estimate of how much food your cat needs to eat and keep down each day. That will also require regular weigh-ins and communication between the owner and veterinarian until the estimate is reached.
The second is a feeding strategy, especially if there is more than one cat in the household or if you have a harassing terrier. Again, that may take some back and forth before you decide where and how you want to accomplish this task.
Save yourself some money at first and don’t just run out and purchase complex feeders for your cat. The internet is filled with do-it-yourself strategies for hiding food, making food puzzles, and otherwise reawakening the wild cat behavior that still lives in your cat.
And when separating food for calmer consumption, don’t forget to do the same with the pet’s water bowls.
Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email firstname.lastname@example.org.